Hide wasn’t built for average folk. It wasn’t built for the above average folk. It was built for the same people who built it: the super-rich. The oligarchs, and the sheikhs, the morally corrupt and the limitless business expense accounts. In an age of war and global pandemics, and in a week where household bills soar and cripple households, it sits blindly oblivious in the heart of Mayfair on a spot overlooking Green Park. From dinner tour buses trundle down Piccadilly, their eyes cast inwards at the well-heeled whose bags are given their own seat off the ground and whose choices include whether to drop the £495 on the beluga caviar or the hedonistic wine pairing. The door downstairs is fort heavy to keep the weak and malnourished away, giving in eventually to a less formal ground restaurant downstairs and a sprawling, twisting oak staircase of singular piece presumably hand-carved by fairies at twilight, which leads to Above, Ollie Dabbous’ Michelin starred restaurant, and frankly one of the most ostentatious, ridiculous meals I can ever recall eating.
I am not opposed to spending money on good food. Ynyshir at £350 per head is eye-wateringly expensive, yet leaves you with a feeling that you have transcended time and experienced some of the best, most luxurious cooking in the UK. Here, with a five-course tasting menu stretched out over two and a bit hours (yours for £110 per head) I left baffled and hungry. The food occasionally hit brilliant heights but mostly feels like you are being preached to. It’s clean and efficient, but then so are the toilets at my local ODEON. Mostly it’s as depressingly dull and pointless as the third instalment of The Matrix movies.
The opening splay of first bits are so vast the perfectly manicured front of house has to work in tandem to make space, shuffling wine glasses and fizzy water to peripherals and hiding the butter at the back of the bread basket until it was almost too late to notice. There is a mushroom and lemon grass broth, tepid, with the smell of sewage, to be drunk from the bowl as if we are famished, and a kind of salad cream topped with granola, to be eaten with lettuce like a shit Dairylea Dunker. It’s healthy in a way that colonic irrigation is. I laugh at the surreality of it all, fully aware that they are being deadly serious about this being ‘finger food’. Skewers of bird feathers hold spirals of cured goose with thick indigestible layers of fat, and another, a faux bone, with cured pork far better. The bread basket is serious work, but still a lecture of life and how to prolong it, each containing vegetables. The parsnip one is good, the carrot crisp better, but I really don’t need the beetroot brioche or the Guinness bread, even when I eventually locate the butter.
Then the two courses which are chosen for us; jicama, a starchy root vegetable which is of course good for dieting, with yuzu, and a green mole that reinforces this is really not the place to come for a good time. The nest egg arrives, a signature of Dabbous’ for over a decade. I imagine back then it would have excited, fairly similar to the one at Arpege in Paris, and look! it’s served in the shell! And there is smouldering hay! The egg has been lightly scrambled with smoked butter and mushrooms. I’m bored after a mouthful and leave the rest. The waitress notices and asks if I would like the vegetarian alternative, confusing me more than the time they gave me salad cream and told me to eat it with a lettuce.
The choice of two per course from here allows a full house of options from herein. The fish courses are mostly brilliant: halibut that is a fraction over in a sauce of various citrus fruits that shimmers with vibrant acidity. A pile of caviar for luxury and some wilted greenery completes it. It’s a bloody good dish, great even, that makes me sit bolt upright in my seat. Same for the fat scallop, sweeter than a nativity performance, in a champagne butter sauce cut with various roe. Yes, the enoki are barely cooked, but right now I’m trying to find all the positives possible.
It must take a special talent to take some of my favourite ingredients in the world; asparagus, hazelnuts, truffle, morels, and chicken, and turn them into something I couldn’t care less about. The slither of breast is gently cooked, with a layer of truffle stuffed under the flabby and wet skin. the asparagus goes from raw to almost raw, devoid of seasoning and sat on a grainy green concoction which is probably great for my skin but is terrible for my mood. There is a sauce of truffle and morel which has the whiff of dog’s breath. I didn’t try the lamb because I was still too busy sulking into a glass of Cote du Rhone that they are refilling every twenty-five seconds. It looked better and there was no complaining. I should have ordered that.
If the descriptions of desserts sound bad the reality is even worse. Perhaps the most pointless last courses I have ever been served in a starred restaurant. Nothing could prepare me for the ‘sherbert of mastic crystals’, which sounds like something I’ll take to get off my nut at Glastonbury, but in reality, is something that could drive me to drugs if only to suppress my appetite. A shaped rose of ice cream flavoured with misery sits around a soup of pine oil and tapioca, with a slightly zingy back note that hums away like a dab of amphetamine. It’s a car crash with no survivors; the kind of cooking that make repeats of Ready Steady Cook look like Escoffier. Totally pointless. The other option is a parfait of donut which tastes faintly like the cheap ringed ones from Tesco that come in a bag, with a blueberry compote and a foam of what is supposed to be milkshake. It’s like they don’t want you to eat dessert here, like it’s a bad thing, and you are being punished for wanting something sweet. My last point proved by the petit fours of a square of rhubarb and something they call porridge skin which urgently needs circumcising.
Service is standoffish and not particularly polite and the whole thing left me feeling cold and in need of more food. If you haven’t guessed by now, I didn’t like it. Sure, one or two bits of the food made me admire it from a technical standpoint, but the entire experience is one I am not keen to go through again. We exit down the stairs and through the big wooden door which takes the two of us to push through. Outside we laugh about how it’s a barrier between the rich and poor, fully aware it’s actually no joke at all. Maybe it takes a certain type of clientele to appreciate a place like this. I’m not sure I’ll ever be that person.